Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups vs. Theo Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Theo Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups vs. Reese's

Can Theo’s new dark chocolate peanut butter cups (top) rival the sentimental favorite of millions?

Each year when my kids come home with their Halloween bags full of goodies, I coerce them into letting me sample two things:  Almond Joy bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups.   Yes, even as a chocolate connoisseur, I occasionally eat common everyday candy.  It’s becoming less and less every year, but there’s something compelling me, perhaps some nostalgia, to reach into the bag with a bit of reluctance and pull out a big hunk of sugar like a smoker who’s quit but occasionally indulges in just one cigarette.

But not all candy has to be junk, does it?  When I learned that the fair trade organic chocolate maker from Seattle, Theo Chocolate, just put out a new peanut butter cup, I had to give it a fair review vs. the old standby:  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by Hershey’s.  Theo actually makes two types – a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate.  I went for the healthier and I hope tastier dark chocolate option.

Reese's and Theo peanut butter cups

The familiar round Reese’s cups (left) use milk chocolate while the heart-shaped Theo cup use dark chocolate.

Where to buy:  Reese’s – just about anywhere. I bought a two-pack at a local old-school convenience store for $1.30 only to find them completely melted.  To give Hershey’s a fair shake, I had to start with something in good condition, so I found another pack at the big-box hardware store for $1.20 bringing my total effective cost to $2.50. Ingredients: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk solids, non-fat milk, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR emulsifier), peanuts, sugar, dextrose, salt, TBHQ (preservative).

Where to buy: Theo – available online at NewLeaf Chocolates for $2.49.  Ingredients:  Cocoa Beans, Cane Sugar, Peanut Butter (Roasted Peanuts), Cocoa Butter, Powdered Sugar (Cane Sugar, Cornstarch), Peanut Flour, Salt, Rosemary Extract (Vegetable Oil, Rosemary Extract), Ground Vanilla Bean.

Aroma:  Reese’s – all peanut butter. I tried several times to find some scent of chocolate and the closest I could come to is milk.  If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  First smell a real dark chocolate bar and then the peanut butter cups.

Aroma:  Theo – first chocolate and then something nutty.

Taste:  Reese’s – It’s a big sugar rush.  The taste is dominated by sugar and peanuts up front.  Real chocolate flavor was hard to find.  All my life could I have been enjoying only the perception of chocolate?

Taste:  Theo – once you bite into it, it’s all peanuts just like Reese’s, but much less sweet.  A moment later, the real chocolate flavor appears with a very short-lived hint of fruit.  It was an unexpectedly less intense experience than Reese’s mainly because with Reese’s the sugar is overwhelming.  With Theo, you enjoy the chocolate flavor more and can feel and taste it separately in your mouth.  The finish eventually goes back to all nuts.

Texture:  Reese’s – A grittiness perhaps from the nuts turns smooth after a while.

Texture:  Theo – There’s a good snap at the start.  You will want to let it melt on your tongue a bit before chewing to let the chocolate catch up to the peanut butter flavors.

Reese's and Theo's peanut butter cups cut open

The inside of the cups look similar, but the Reese’s (left) seems infinitely sweeter than Theo.

TBHQ + PGPR + YOU = ?

I know some of you are wondering about those suspiciously long abbreviations in the Reese’s ingredients list. Here’s what they mean.

TBHQ is tertiary butylhydroquinone, an antioxidant that is derived from petroleum[2].  It’s often used as a preservative on packaging and in some foods with the full blessing of the FDA as long as it’s below a certain concentration.  This is not the type of antioxidant you get from blueberries and green tea.  This is an industrial chemical used to slow the oxidation of fats and other stuff so they don’t taste rancid.

PGPR is polyglycerol polyricinoleate, an emulsifier used to reduce the viscosity of chocolate so that they can pump it around a big factory in pipes and quickly fill all corners the little paper cups that hold the chocolate[3]. It also makes it easier for the chocolate to melt into a formless heap if it sits on a sunny store shelf.

Look, I don’t think we should be afraid of every chemical that has a long name – there’s plenty of complex chemicals naturally produced by your own body after all.  But, I don’t see any need for PGPR or TBHQ in my chocolate.  To produce a peanut butter cup that sells for not much more than a dollar, I suppose you have to throw in a couple of chemicals.  That’s what you get for $1.30.

If you try to research the safety of these chemicals on the web, you’re bound to run into some pseudo science, so be careful.  If you want some better information, I’d start with the Wikipedia links at the bottom of this page. Or you might be the type to enjoy a good cigarette along with your peanut butter cups and not worry about the consequences.  If so, I won’t judge you… really [4].

Last Bite

Well, it looks like I’ve outgrown Reese’s peanut butter cups after all – gone along with a long list of bad habits that I look back upon with a certain degree of fondness including Frosted Mini Wheats, imitation bacon bits, and Coors Lite.  This one’s easy to shed though thanks to Theo. They’ve given me a genuine chocolate treat at an accessible price.  I know some of you are still not convinced.  In your mind, Reese’s are what peanut butter cups are supposed to taste like.  It’s always been that way and always will be.  OK, but just imagine if in your childhood there was only Theo!

Notes:

[1] I was given these for free when I bought a bunch of other stuff from Theo.  They had no idea what I might do with them.

[2] Read more about TBHQ on Wikipedia.

[3] Read more about PGPR on Wikipedia

[4] Didn’t we learn anything from Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier?”

In Honor of World Cup Brazil: Pralus Bresil Dark Chocolate

Pralus Brazil Dark Chocolate

Getting excited for the Brazil – Colombia match by tasting some single-origin Brazil dark chocolate.

Although I’ve gotten over the loss of  USA to Belgium this week and come to accept  Klinsmann’s vision that this will be a long journey to raise the state of US soccer, I’m still feeling a void – which team do I back now?  The only decent thing to do, for now, is to root for our World Cup 2014 hosts – Brazil.  So to get psyched up for the Brazil – Colombia match, I’m tasting some single-origin Brazil dark chocolate. Pralus Bresil Dark Chocolate 75% is one of several organic dark chocolates made by the French chocolatier  Francois Pralus.  I’m a fan of his work – especially his Chuao bar and perhaps the  only edible 100% cacao bar on the market – the nutty,  unctuous Pralus Le 100%.  For the Pralus Bresil 75%, he takes single-origin beans from Brazil and works them into beautiful chocolate in Southern France.  Here are my impressions.

Pralus Brazil Organic Dark Chocolate

Pralus surprised me with moderate complexity, fine aroma and good fruit with this organic dark chocolate bar.

WHAT:  Pralus Bresil Dark Chocolate.   75% Cacao.  100 g (3.5 oz). Ingredients: Cacao, Pure cane sugar, pure cocoa butter, GMO–free for soy lecithin.  Where to buy. WHEN:  July 4,  2014 OVERALL RATING: 89. AROMA:  Red fruit, strawberry, orange, lime, brown sugar. INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Watermelon, lime, red fruit. MIDDLE TASTE: The chocolate quickly but briefly goes flat before unfolding into nuts, bourbon, cafe-con-leche. FINISH: Caramel, followed by shallow waves of mushrooms, light coffee and nuts with a dim background of citrus fruit. TEXTURE: Very smooth, yielding, melts uniformly. The thick bar is a bit chewy in a satisfying way. LAST BITE:  This chocolate bar uses Forestero beans from Brazil.  Forestero is known as a relatively simple bulk cacao  bean, but like people, such generalizations based upon genetics are not fair and certainly not always accurate.  While not a massively complex bar, this chocolate has much more complexity than the average Forestero chocolate – especially some I’ve tried coming out of Ghana or Congo.  When I opened he bar, I expected the often flat cashew aroma typical of Forestero beans, but my nose was hit with more lively red fruit and citrus. I was also impressed by the way the bar was not monochromatic, but moved around a spectrum of fruit, and nuts never reaching bitterness.  Putting Pralus Chuao aside, this is my favorite Pralus bar so far. Nice Work! After this tasting, I’m feeling inspired for Brazil.  If you’re also feeling inspired by single-origin Brazil dark chocolate, you can also check out Zotter Labooko Brazil dark chocolate 70%.

Update: since I had written this post, Brazil beat Colombia  2-1 in the quarter finals and lost to Germany in the semi-final round (enough said). They were finally defeated by Netherlands 3-0 in a match that decided the third-place title.

Notes: 1) World Cup Brazil is a trademark of FIFA. The author has no connection with FIFA. 2) I paid for this chocolate myself.